Taxi

If it weren’t for two of my dear High School friends, I may not have this story to tell about singer, songwriter, Harry Chapin. But it was their invitation to go see him perform in our High School auditorium during our senior year that endeared me to his music. Harry, with just an acoustic guitar, gravelly voice and a love of story songs, sat on the edge of the stage playing simple renditions of his songs. When I heard him perform Taxi, I was smitten.

Seven notes; four major scale, and three minor scale, combine in a sequence that repeat throughout the song. I have often wondered how a simple sequence of notes could touch so deeply. And what about their relationship to the lyrics? Melody, through the relationship of the notes, turns sound into emotive expression.

Music, so primary to life, was perhaps our first language. Besides the music that we humans create and express, the world itself is forever humming away. Even the wind makes music.

The seven notes that start Taxi create a pulse between the major and minor chords, shifting the feeling back and forth from the bright, happy feel of the major chord, seamlessly into the sadness of the minor 7th. Bittersweet is what I hear, and indeed, permeates Harry’s tale of unexpectedly meeting his long ago lover.

It was raining hard in ‘Frisco,
I needed one more fare to make my night.
A lady up ahead waved to flag me down,
She got in at the light.

Oh, where you going to, my lady blue,
It’s a shame you ruined your gown in the rain.
She just looked out the window, and said
“Sixteen Parkside Lane”.

Something about her was familiar
I could swear I’d seen her face before,
But she said, “I’m sure you’re mistaken”
And she didn’t say anything more.

It took a while, but she looked in the mirror,
And she glanced at the license for my name.
A smile seemed to come to her slowly,
It was a sad smile, just the same.
And she said, “How are you Harry?”
I said, “How are you Sue?
Through the too many miles
and the too little smiles
I still remember you.”

The first verse indicates the necessity of the ride and “one more fare.” Mobility then is the theme, with the vehicle in this case being the work of a taxi driver. Lady blue herself, seems a mix of bittersweet, beautifully dressed in a gown now ruined in the rain. She doesn’t notice Harry, but he recognizes her. At first she denies any connection, but when she sees his reflection in the mirror, she smiles, but again, it’s sad.

It was somewhere in a fairy tale,
I used to take her home in my car.
We learned about love in the back of the Dodge,
The lesson hadn’t gone too far.
You see, she was gonna be an actress,
And I was gonna learn to fly.
She took off to find the footlights,
And I took off to find the sky.

“NYC Taxi in motion” by The Wordsmith – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

A fairy tale, yes. We’re now in a story where the significance changes from my personal past, to the mythological, where what matters to soul and one’s fate is now in play. The memories of the past may have happened, but the story moves us outside of time and into Kairos, or eternal time.

The lyric tells us of where the relationship diverges, through dreams and desires for what one wants to be. By necessity one must follow their path, in Harry’s case it’s through “flying,” an action or movement of oneself, which mythologically may be understood as transcendence. But Sue also seeks a form of transcendence by abandoning or transcending her identity through acting.

From here, the song moves to an interlude where Harry reflects on something deeply personal and I think quite profound.

Oh, I’ve got something inside me,
To drive a princess blind.
There’s a wild man, wizard,
He’s hiding in me, illuminating my mind.
Oh, I’ve got something inside me,
Not what my life’s about,
Cause I’ve been letting my outside tide me,
Over ’till my time, runs out.

The drive perhaps leads him to know a part of himself that is autonomous and essential, which keep him “driving the princess blind.” Sue, and other feminine figures in his life, cannot see. Can they not see him, and does he not relate enough to know what they see? Is he trying to make sense of what it is that drives him so?

Harry’s fate may be foretold here I think. In the 70’s he became more and more involved in political action and humanitarian causes. He worked endlessly to raise money for food banks, giving away most of his fortune that came from the success of his music. But, as friends recall, he was often away from his family, and had trouble keeping a band together because he wanted to donate most of the proceeds to causes.

Next, we hear the beautiful high voice of John Wallace, in falsetto, singing these lines:

Baby’s so high that she’s skying,
Yes she’s flying, afraid to fall.
I’ll tell you why baby’s crying,
Cause she’s dying, aren’t we all.

Seeing the feminine figure as the one flying too high, Harry now brings death into the story. As if he is not afraid of his fate, he is compelled to live life frantically to serve what calls him.

There was not much more for us to talk about,
Whatever we had once was gone.
So I turned my cab into the driveway,
Past the gate and the fine trimmed lawns.
And she said we must get together,
But I knew it’d never be arranged.
And she handed me twenty dollars,
For a two fifty fare, she said
“Harry, keep the change.”
Well another man might have been angry,
And another man might have been hurt,
But another man never would have let her go…
I stashed the bill in my shirt.

He’s willing to let go of her – again, is it blindness or resignation to whatever fate has in store for him that harbors no remorse for the loss, gladly “keeping the change” that comes from their encounter?

And she walked away in silence,
It’s strange, how you never know,
But we’d both gotten what we’d asked for,
Such a long, long time ago.

There is acceptance here, which I think can only come as one feels their calling in a very intense way. The last verse reiterates the calling with the acknowledgement that their youthful dreams have been fulfilled.

You see, she was gonna be an actress
And I was gonna learn to fly.
She took off to find the footlights,
And I took off for the sky.
And here, she’s acting happy,
Inside her handsome home.
And me, I’m flying in my taxi,
Taking tips, and getting stoned,
I go flying so high, when I’m stoned.

Harry’s astrological birth chart is visually stunning. You can see it here, along with a bio of his life. I would love to know what any astrologers out there reading this might think about his chart.

On July 16, 1981, as I was working at Suffolk Life Newspapers on Long Island, in NY, it was announced over the radio that Harry had died on the Long Island Expressway in an accident. That night, I had plans to drive with some friends into Queens to watch the NY Mets play baseball. We drove by the scene where the accident had taken place. The 18-wheeler truck that rammed into Harry’s blue VW Rabbit, exploding the gas tank, was gone, but the skid marks and burnt grass were impossible to miss. Some think he may have had a heart attack which caused his car to veer in front of the truck.  It is a scene etched into my memory, as much as is Harry’s song and the legacy of his charities. He was post humously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal for his works.

Visions of Johanna – An Alchemical View

When I first started studying Alchemy in the writings of C.G. Jung and much later, James Hillman, I had difficulty finding its relevance in the life of us moderns. Already lacking enough time in the daily grind to leave room for a little reading, writing and relaxation, how does one find the time to devote to studying alchemy, enough to allow its relevance to bear fruit?

So in the past few months I have been looking for alchemical movement beyond what is written specifically about it, to how it can be seen in our modern culture through lyrics, movies and television. As presented by James Hillman, alchemy is the work of soul-making. Through the movement and expansion of our dayworld perspective we may begin to include the underworld perspective; its world of mystery and invisibles that unwittingly affect our lives. In the work, an Opus Contra Naturum (a work against nature), we move through the darkness of our human condition to the mystery of the goal, finding a way to navigate the darkness, authenticate our uniqueness, and in so doing, enter more fully and freely into life for life and death’s sake.

If you’re looking (or obsessed?), you can see alchemical movement everywhere, from song lyrics to television and most importantly in your own life. Perhaps by practicing seeing alchemy in the culture, we moderns can also see its relevance for our own lives.

Twice, in the past week, I heard Dylan’s haunting song, Visions of Johanna, an old favorite of mine playing on the radio. You can hear the song, at the two-minute mark, here. Looking at the lyric with alchemical glasses we immediately find ourselves in the dark, right in the first line:

“Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin’ to be so quiet ?
We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin our best to deny it

The song contrasts the writer’s dayworld experience of his lover, Louise, with the absence of another, Johanna. Although it’s tempting to see Johanna as only a past lover, perhaps more than that, Johanna is soul or the desire for soul itself, the lament of her absence pointing to a loss, leading to the dark feeling of the Nigredo stage of alchemy in which, when it is reached, leaves us there, in the dark, stranded.

File:Bob Dylan in Toronto1.jpg

“Louise, she’s all right, she’s just near
She’s delicate and seems like the mirror
But she just makes it all too concise and too clear
That Johanna’s not here
The ghost of ’lectricity howls in the bones of her face
Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place”

The pangs of absence tells us we’re not ready yet for any mirrors, not able to reflect yet, it’s still too dark.

In the next verse there’s the admission of an attraction to danger and submitting to misery. As well, the misery starts to double in on itself as “the little boy lost” now complains about this awful state, bragging even and painfully aware of his own uselessness. Perhaps there can now be movement to the blue stage where the scintilla or spark so necessary for lighting the fire will be ignited.

“Now, little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously
He brags of his misery, he likes to live dangerously
And when bringing her name up
He speaks of a farewell kiss to me
He’s sure got a lotta gall to be so useless and all
Muttering small talk at the wall while I’m in the hall”

Sure enough, next we see the bluing of the darkness in his reflection on DaVinci’s Mona Lisa, for even she must of had the “highway blues.” So, there it is, the recognition that although alone, you are still in the company of other travelers.

“Inside the museums, Infinity goes up on trial
Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while
But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues
You can tell by the way she smiles”

According to Wiki, this song was written shortly after Dylan’s marriage to Sara Lownds in 1965. Perhaps the dayworld marriage to Sara sparks a conflict in the soul whose love and need for freedom is threatened after feeling the weight of commitment that marriage and children bring.

“The peddler now speaks to the countess who’s pretending to care for him
Saying, “Name me someone that’s not a parasite and I’ll go out and say a prayer for him”

There’s no resolution, but much conflict in the last verse of the song. But, “the empty cage” does suggest that something has fled. In thinking about this I wonder if the emptiness too is not a necessary part of the work. The fleeing itself suggests movement, and that the “empty cage now corrode(s)” may indicate that there is no longer a need for a cage. The soul, as the flow and movement of the life-giving (animating) force, must give up any containment that is life or soul-destroying.

File:Michael Maier Atalanta Fugiens Emblem 34.jpegA marriage is in order though, but one that we nurture and create providing for us a ground of being in which we can then navigate the course of our lives. In alchemy this marriage is imaged as heaven and earth; in which our dayworld perspective is continually fed by the mystery of the unknown, the underworld, the source of all creation so necessary for both our life and our death.

“And Madonna, she still has not showed
We see this empty cage now corrode
Where her cape of the stage once had flowed
The fiddler, he now steps to the road
He writes ev’rything’s been returned which was owed
On the back of the fish truck that loads
While my conscience explodes”

Lyrics copyright: Dwarf Music reprinted here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Text_of_Creative_Commons_Attribution-ShareAlike_3.0_Unported_License